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rat care

What do you need for rats?

Those who are new to rats may be surprised by how much “stuff” they need. While breeders don’t all agree on what is necessary for your rats “set-up” (the cage, furnishings, substrate, etc), all of us want enriched environments with plenty of opportunity for the rats to burrow, nest-build, exercise, climb, and play.

I have a comprehensive list of stuff I would like owners of future Blue Apple rats to have before I home out to them. But if you want a general place to find out more about rat care, try some of these resources:

  • The National Fancy Rat Society forum. You can join the NFRS and access every article and forum entry available to breeders. It is worth the membership to do so when, in the middle of the night, your rat is doing something you’re worried about and you want some advice or information in a hurry! 
  • Rat Care UK, The admin/moderators are excellent on that forum, but not everyone on that forum is reliable so do pick and choose. 
  • Isamu Rat Care on Youtube. I love this channel. While, I set up the fabulous bioactive cages like Jemma has, I do use a lot of her tips on creating the most natural and enriched cages I can for my rats. You will learn about what rats really need, how to evaluate different substrates, cages, health issues, and (important!) how to introduce rats to one another. 

Oh, and don’t forget one of my favourite people in the rat world! Alison at RATWISE has made it her mission to help educate owners (and breeders, too!) on the best ways to look after and provide for our beautiful pet rats.

Some cages have wire shelves. While, these do not cause bumblefoot, they are still kind of horrible. And if a rat is not used to them, it’s possible for them to injure a foot or leg. They can be covered lino, but are best removed altogether. If the cage has a wire grid over the floor, remove it as it’s not helpful and will hinder natural behaviours. It will also stink if the bars aren’t coated, and pretty much stink if they are! You want a deep base of substrate (Snowflake Supreme, Bedmax, Littlemax, Aubiose, Green Mile, Finacard or combination) for your rats to be able to dig in. You can find many different substrates at You can buy them at equestrian shops, too, but usually in large quantities that you’d have to store safely so they don’t mould or get infested with rodents outside!

rat breeding

Preparing the Birth Cage


It’s day 21 for Hummingbird, and it’s time to prepare for her birth cage. Most rats have their litters after 22.5 days of gestation. For now, I’m not setting up the web camera, but that will be tomorrow’s work!


rat care

Applying For Rats From Me

Like any good breeder, I want to make sure my rats go to people who love rats, are willing to learn everything they can to keep them healthy and happy, and can provide their housing, food, and veterinary needs for the whole of their relatively short lives.

There are so many rats that end up purchased by well-meaning people only to be passed on when the landlord discovers with horror that there are pet rats in the place (heaven forfend!) or a child loses interest, or the owner gets bored. I’ve had many “rescue rats” due to such circumstances and I am determined that the rats I breed do not end up being rehomed.

Normally I say (in fact, I insist) that if you adopt rats from me you agree that, should you be unable to look after them in the future, you will return them to me. Since Covid19, however, I’m more careful about taking back rats I’ve homed out. I’ll still have them, of course!

Taco, aged 6 months

Generally, don’t get rats unless you are 100% sure you can keep them. This means your landlord or housemates aren’t against the idea or allergic, that you can afford them, that you agree to look after them for their entire lives. If for some reason you cannot, ring and we’ll see what can be arranged, however. I usually have a lot of people who want rats and might be able to find a suitable home.

If you don’t have enough money for veterinary bills, I suggest you put a minimum of £100 away for every rat you plan to keep and, only then, adopt rats. Anyone’s rats — not just mine. My experience with rats is that they will get at least one upper respiratory infection, costing close to 50 pounds for the vet visit and medication,  and one “put to sleep” visit, costing about the same later in their lives.

There can be many other costs associated with rats. You may find you need to spay or have a tumour removed from your rat. Costs vary but my vet will charge about £85 for a spay. Not every rat will need tumour removal or spaying, but it’s good to know you have the funds available if this should turn out to be the case.

Your rats’ quality of life is very important. They are such smart, active, curious creatures that they really need to come out daily for about an hour to “free-range” either in a secure room or a large enclosure (I can help you with ideas on this). I have a play pen as well as time out on my sofa while I watch movies. They climb on me, go through tunnels, investigate the book shelf, and generally have a nice time. Because I have both males and females, I have to make sure that each group comes out. It’s a commitment!

Of course, the rats won’t die if they don’t come out of their cage daily…so if you do miss a day here or there, don’t worry. I’m just trying to give you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into by getting rats!

So…what happens when you go away for holiday? You can’t just leave them with nobody to attend to them. You’ll need to find a family member or pet service that will check on them daily.  Of course, if it is only overnight, you can add an extra water bottle and a big bowl of food and you’ll probably be fine, but don’t turn off the heat! Rats can adjust to colder temperatures but not all at once! I keep mine somewhere between 16-21…the summers can be hard as they don’t like it too hot. It’s difficult to keep temperatures moderate during a very hot summer or cold winter and this is why I insist that any baby rats of mine be kept in your house and not in a shed or garage. I can help you with ideas for keeping your rats warm enough, for cooling them down, for making sure they thrive, but only if they are in a house or flat, not outdoors.

Rats need company. I’ve found very few exceptions to the rule that all rats must be kept in a minimum of pairs. This is why I prefer to home rats in trios, not in pairs. It is so easy to lose a rat at, say, 20 months old and have their sister or brother go on to live six additional months or more. If you have a very elderly rat that really is on its last legs you may choose to keep him or her alone for a couple of weeks prior to saying goodbye to that rat. In fact, that may be the kindest thing if the rat is very infirm. However, for the most part, you really need to keep rats with other rats. One great reason to join the the National Fancy Rat Society is so that you can post on their forum “WANTED” section if you find yourself in this position (the forum is also a great place to get health and breeding information).

People will be more than willing to help you either by supplying you with a couple of baby rats or even finding a rat of approximately the same age with which you can pair your singleton rat. That is, if they can.

Do you have the room for a rat cage? It seems a silly question but these cages are BIG. In fact, if you want to make your life a lot easier, get a couple of cages. One would be smallish, the sort of thing you can keep three baby rats in for a week or so and then use as a “hospital” or travel cage in the future. I have a Savic Ruffy 2 cage that I’d never keep rats in permanently because it is way too small even for 2 rats. However, I find it fits nicely into my car when I take my rats away with me overnight (which, yes, I do!) or when I take a few to shows. It has been an old rats’ cage for my extremely elderly rats who can no longer climb and a honeymoon suite for a pair of rats I hope to mate. I love the cage, though it is not perfect (the door is on the top so you have to swoop in eagle-style to pick up a rat!). At home, my rats are in a Savic Suite Royale, a giant cage with two levels. However, a trio of rats all be quite happy in something like a Furplast Freddy 2 or a Freddy 2 Max. You can use a Mamble 100 if you can find it, half the price and much bigger than it looks in the photos. Also, very good is the Coco Large found at Little Pet Warehouse. There are a lot of other cages but be careful the bars aren’t too far apart and that the access is good so it’s easy for you to clean!

It isn’t just the size of the cage that matters (though it does) but how it is furnished. You cage should be stuffed with tubes, hammocks, perches, ledges, digging boxes, ropes, cargo nets, and the like.

My point is this: the cage is BIG. You have to have room. And you may need more than one. The furnishings are extensive, you’ll need a ton of them, and yes you need a 14″ or larger wheel (at least, if you want rats from me). I don’t home rats to people unless they provide a 14″ or larger wheel.

Now, for the health-related stuff. First, are you allergic to rats? If you think you might be, please go along to a rat show run by the NFRS or another organisation, walk around and play with the rats (people will be happy to share their rats with you if you explain why you want to hold them) BEFORE collecting a pair of babies and then breaking out in a skin rash! You may be allergic to their bedding, not the rat, which is easily managed by switching bedding.

Next, are you pregnant or are you immunocompromised? Why do I ask? Because many pet rats (or at least some pet rats) may carry hantavirus, which is a virus that is normally not serious but CAN be serious for some people, including those who are immunocompromised. Now, if you have pet rats and later become pregnant, you can ask your doctor about the situation. Your doctor may know little about it, however. Hopefully, it won’t matter too much as you have already been exposed to your rats and so if they carry the virus you already have antibodies. But I wouldn’t go around playing with tons of additional other rats during this time. Also, keep your rats indoors so they don’t come into contact with wild rats that may carry leptospirosis.

If you have children, are they able to cope with a rat bite, should one occur? My rats don’t bite me but if I were try to break up a fight (don’t do that!) I’d have a chance of being bitten and these bites can be serious. This is why I don’t break up rat fights with my hands — ever! Anyway, most rat arguments result in no injury to either rat despite the squeaking. Instead, on those rare occasions when I’ve had to break up rats, I try to distract them, then swoop in with a towel.

All rat bites carry a chance of rat bite fever. And anyway, they hurt. For a small child a rat bite to the finger could be very deep and do lots of damage. The same is true for hamster bites, of course, but I’m just making the point. I like small does for small children for this reason. Smaller jaws, less testosterone. Having said that, I’m always amazed at how cuddly and gentle male rats are. It’s just that if they do bite, they will make a bigger impression.

Have I scared you off? I hope not! Like many breeders, I am doing everything I can to breed really sweet, easy rats. But they aren’t the cheapest pet (apparently the hamster is our cheapest pet!) and they do need daily attention, a big cage, funds for veterinary care, and a little respect by children and adults alike.

You can find loads of information through the National Fancy Rat Society. I suggest you join it and read their forum. A great source of the latest knowledge.

rat breeding

Socialising Pet Rats (especially the shy ones)

I’ve been hearing of many people who are having difficulty socialising their pet rats. By “socialising” I mean that they want their rats to feel more comfortable being handled, spending time out of their cage, and engaging with different members of the family. Not only do they want their rats to feel more comfortable with all this but to actively seek out human company and enjoy “free-ranging” outside their cage.


The degree to which a rat enjoys people or world outside their cage varies enormously from rat to rat. I’ve had the occasional rat that wants to spend all his time with me. A rat I bought at Harrods in London (back when Harrods had a pet store) would spend 10 minutes wandering around the room that housed his cage and then insist that he come sit on my lap. I adored this rat, a total “lap rat” that really was the best buck I’ve ever had in terms of giving kisses and demanding love. However, right now I have a doe named Essie who is almost as cuddly. She enjoys romping around the sofa with her friends, hiding under pillows and darting through tunnels a bit more than my Harrod’s rat, but she always ends up on my lap licking my hands and generally refusing to budge.


However, I’ve had a lot of skittish rats in my day. This is because I used to take in rescues exclusively. When I lived in London, a pet shop near me used to regularly receive small hamster cages stuffed with rats outside its door. I had a few of those. More recently, I’ve had 6 different does over the years from a rescue about an hour from my house. I had a couple of boys that weren’t getting any time outside their cage now that their owner was working a lot of hours. And I’ve had rats that were rehomes for various reasons.


A lot of temperament is due to genetics. Breeders who select for a specific temperament are generally able to achieve it over time, just like any trait. However, handling is critical so a lot of breeders not only handle their babies, but make sure that their adults are regularly handled, too, to ensure that they are comfortable in human company. With patience, most rats become quite friendly.











rat care

Video of Orange Julius being cute

This is Blue Apple Orange Julius. I really love this rat and he’s exactly what I breed for (but don’t always get). He’s a 7-month old Russian topaz buck turning velvet. Really nice guy who is sweet to people as well as his cage mates. I will be breeding him but am not sure when. I may breed Eloise to Kiwi Kronk and then the does from that litter to Julius when they reach 6+ months. Kronk isn’t velvet but he also isn’t topaz so the litter would have a wider selection of colours from which I could choose (I prefer to breed from does who are not carrying two copies of Red-eyed dilute). Velvet is a tricky thing to get and keep. I don’t understand it yet.


rat breeding

What I’m breeding now (velvet rats…!)

With Kiko’s babies now 10-weeks old and almost all homed out, and Elsa’s babies now 6.5 weeks old, I don’t have immediate plans for more litters. However, I will be mating up rats again either in May 2020 or a few months later than that. I will be hoping for lovely, friendly babies in Russian blue agouti and Russian topaz in both dumbo and top-eared.

I will have some (not many) rats available at 8 weeks if I get large litters. All my rats are handled daily and my babies are handled several times a day from about 3 weeks forward.

I breed for velvet rats, which are a bit of a mystery. We don’t fully understand the gene, which doesn’t act as a simple recessive like, say, dumbo ears. It shows up mostly in Russian rats or chins sometime around the 5-6 month mark. Your rat simply goes from looking “normal” to looking like someone switched it for a plush toy. 

I’ll be posting all their baby pictures on my Facebook page at Blue Apple Rattery, so that prospective new owners can watch as their babies grow up.

If you are interested in adopting some babies, please read my page all about adopting rats from Blue Apple Rattery.  I do have an application form. Just ask for it! 🙂

My rats spend a lot of time playing out of the cage and expect the same in their new homes! My rats go to the vet when they are ill and expect the same in their new homes. “Home remedies” are not enough.

Because I am a member of the National Fancy Rat Society here in Britain I am regularly in contact with people who breed rats. If I don’t have baby rats available, I am sure someone I know may soon. If I recommend a breeder it is because they breed ethically and, to my knowledge, have very nice rats.  However, breeders like those at the NFRS often have waiting lists, so unless you are very lucky you may have to wait a month or two (or three). In my opinion, it’s worth the wait! And if you need a rat fix, you can always visit a rat show!

I love you with a picture of Kiwi Cluck who is  velvet Russian topaz owned and loved by Keera Smith at Kiwi Stud. He is the father of my current babies from whom I’ll be breeding in 2020. 



I’ll be posting all their baby pictures on this site as well as on my facebook page, Blue Apple Rattery, so that prospective new owners can watch as their babies grow up.

If you are interested in adopting some babies, please read my page all about adopting rats from Blue Apple Rattery.  I do have an application form. Just ask for it! 🙂

My rats spend a lot of time playing out of the cage and expect the same in their new homes! My rats go to the vet when they are ill and expect the same in their new homes. “Home remedies” are not enough.

Because I am a member of the National Fancy Rat Society here in Britain I am regularly in contact with people who breed rats. If I don’t have baby rats available, I am sure someone I know may soon. If I recommend a breeder it is because they breed ethically and, to my knowledge, have very nice rats.  However, breeders like those at the NFRS often have waiting lists, so unless you are very lucky you may have to wait a month or two (or three). In my opinion, it’s worth the wait! And if you need a rat fix, you can always visit a rat show!

rat breeding

Kiko’s little ones!

Kiwi Kiko, one of my Russian blue agouti does, had a litter the morning of Saturday, October 26th. The buck (not mine but another Kiwi boy!) is Kiwi Cluck, a Russian topaz velvet buk. Kiko is velvet, too, but not nearly as much as Cluck and we’re hoping for some velvet babies from this group.

Lots to tell but I think the photos are the fun bit. Here they are at 8 days old. There are 12 but one of them may be a foster from Tenebrae. We’ll know shortly whether that little foster made it or not.

Little purgers and some a bit on the thinner side
They only come out for a few minutes. Under the fleece is a warm (not hot!) hot water bottle.
NFRS,Rat Shows

Kiwi Saffy In Her Show Tank — the Girl is doing some winning!

Saffy keeps coming home with rosettes! She won Reserve Best In Show at a 1-star NFRS show in June, then won third in the Supreme Challenge as well as Best Opposite Age at a recent 2-star show in Meldreth.

The judge remarked on her depth of colour and overall good type. He didn’t mention she’s cheeky and full of fun, though I know this to be the case. 🙂

To be honest, I have no idea why Saffy is as “good” as she is. She’s carrying a single gene of red eyed dilute (RED) which means, in theory, she should be a bit too light to win at shows. I keep waiting for her to moult out to a less rich colour (eventually this will happen as Russian blues tend to morph with age). But right now, she’s looking good! I’ll show her at the Summer Cup in July. That’s a HUGE show and I don’t expect her to win, but she’ll certainly not look out of place.

Saffy is now 14 weeks old, and I won’t be breeding her until she’s 7 months. So sorry to those who are waiting! She’ll be bred to another Russian blue but both she and the buck are carrying RED as well as mink. This means they could produce Russian buff, Russian dove and Russian blue. I definitely won’t be keeping the Russian buff and they will be available for homes. I will be keeping at least one Russian dove and possibly a Russian blue.

rat care

Bringing Down the Cost Of Vet Bills



I know they are cute and I know they are fun, but rats are also quite expensive. It’s not the initial cost. Most people don’t worry about paying £15 for a rat. It’s not even the cages, though a cage big enough for a trio of rats will run you anything from £60 on up to the hundreds, depending on how big a cage you want. The problem certainly isn’t the food as even the best quality and most expensive food you can buy (for example the Isa-mix with Egg biscuit) will retail at £3.86/kilogram (at if you are interested).


The problem is the vet bills. I estimate that every rat I own will cost me about £150 in vet bills during the course of their lives. Now, this doesn’t always happen. I have a few 24-month old does that have never seen a vet (yet). On the other hand, both my 20-month girls already needed spaying (about £90 each) and will certainly have at least one visit to the vet during the remainder of their lives, if only for that sad, last time when they are put to sleep.


So, why is it that rats cost so much? There are many diseases a rat can get but the one I’ll talk about here are upper respiratory infections. During one of my saving missions with a very “respy” doe of many years ago my vet sighed and told me that he’d done post mortems on pet rats and the state of their lungs made him wonder how they could ever breathe in the first place.


So, I put this in a blog just to warn prospective pet owners: pet rats are not that cheap! While it is true they will never need thousands of pounds worth of surgery as a dog with a cruciate ligament problem might, they may very well cost you more than you thought they would. As rats only live a couple of years you may keep bringing in new rats and so you always have more “end of life” scenarios in the horizon.


So, what about these upper respiratory infections? Is there any way to manage them less expensively? Yes. Here are a few guidelines for you:


1. Avoid illnesses if possible. Sounds obvious, but it isn’t. If you want to avoid heart disease try to feed a well-balanced diet and weigh out, then scatter the feed, across the cage so that rats have to spend more time foraging for it. This allows them the natural behaviour of foraging, helps keep them from getting bored, and keeps them trim. I like the “Isamix” varieties at If you want to us a block feed, try Science Diet, but do definitely remember to give your rats fresh fruit and vegetables (broccoli and salad are often good choices!). Also, keep your rats out of a draft and at a temperature between 18-25 degrees whenever possible. Do not put them the cage by a window as you may not feel the draft yourself but they can! Also, keep your rats on dust-free and/or kiln-dried substrate. Aubiose, Bedmax, Finacard, just to name a few. This will help reduce the most common respiratory illness of rats: upper respiratory infections. Finally, stay away from your own rats for at least 2 hours after being in close proximity of rats that may be ill (for example, in pet shops, where many rats being sold are not particularly well).

2. Treat early. Treat your rat with obvious signs of a budding respiratory infection before it reaches critical stage. This will be cheaper for you and much better for the rat. If your rat is sneezing more than it should, making a “clicking” noise and showing red discharge around its eyes (this is porphyrin, secreted from the Harderian gland, and is a kind of mucous), it is already stressed out by illness. A trip to the vet for antibiotics is in order. You may not see all these signs, by the way. Some rats don’t get “porphy” with illness. But you will hear noises. And if you hear a kind of wet “gurgly” sound your rat is quite ill. Swift measures may save him his life and you a bundle by avoiding out-of-hours fees for your sick friend.

3. Get on good terms with your vet. My vet knows me and my rats really well. I’ve been charged about half what I’d likely be charged for one of my dogs simply because my vet knows how responsible I am with my rats and that they matter to me. He once removed a mammary tumour for just over £50. Why? Because he knows that many rat owners can’t or won’t pay twice that (or more!) for a rat’s mammary tumour removal and with the surgery rats can and do recover very well. He cares about the rats and he supports owners who go that extra mile. Find a vet like that (I know, they are like gold dust!). You can also bargain with the vet. Literally, ask if they can do the surgery for less money — why not? If the practice allows flexibility, you might get lucky!

4. Learn about rat illnesses before they occur. While it is great to read all about rat toys and cage set ups, it is equally important to read about rat illness. There is a booklet called Common Diseases of the Fancy Rat written by Ann Storey, president of the National Fancy Rat Society in the UK, that you get when you join the club. It is definitely worth having! Order it from And read the websites. Here are a few all from rat expert, Jemma Fettes, whose website is very instructive and what I consider required reading for any rat owner:   Respiratory Illness, Heart Disease , Hind Leg Degeneration, Non-cancerous tumours, Abcesses, Cancerous tumours , Parasites.

Another great source for all health issues regarding rats is

5. Accept that despite everything you do, your rats will eventually get ill! Hey, it’s not your fault. It’s rats! Do you think I’ve never had a sneezing rat or a rat with a zymbals glad tumour? Of course, I have. Sometimes a sneeze is only a sneeze, but sometimes it’s a trip to the vet. As for costs associated with breeding…well, let’s just say my emergency fund for rat veterinary bills gets larger when I expect a litter.


My advice to any animal owner is to keep an emergency fund for veterinary costs. My dogs are insured but for my rats I keep a pot of “rat money” that I only use for vet bills. By treating early and avoiding those emergency out-of-hours fees, plus keeping aside “rat money” you’ll save yourself a lot of stress, too!


Finally, don’t go to crazy lengths to save very old rats. I’ve done it and I haven’t always been successful anyway (though sometimes, yes!). However, your rat is very old and is no longer eating and drinking and getting the quality of life he deserves, it is far kinder to ask the vet to humanely put the rat to sleep. I have a way of making that (slightly) less stressful for the rat. When mine are very ill I keep them in a “hospital cage”, which is only one level (the exact cage is a Savic Ruffy but an “Alaska” or similar would be equally good and cost you less). I provide thick sleeping “cubes” that tend to hold the warmth better than large, thinner hammocks. When it is time to say goodbye, I take the whole cube with the rat inside and put it in a carrier. I then transport to the vet and ask the vet to lower the rat in its cube into the tank when they put it down. That way the rat is in its secure home and less stressed by the experience.


It’s the best I’ve come up with so far, though I’ve had different situations that have meant rats have died while sleeping on my chest or, on occasion, passed peacefully in a huddle with their cagemates.